A few people have expressed interest in my indoor, semi-automated growing setup so here's the lowdown.. In a corner of my workshop is a cupboard with a footprint of 1.6x1.2m, 2.2m high. This is...
A few people have expressed interest in my indoor, semi-automated growing setup so here's the lowdown.. In a corner of my workshop is a cupboard with a footprint of 1.6x1.2m, 2.2m high. This is insulated with a mixture of glasswool, foam board and expanding foam (depending on what I could install where), and lined with diamond pattern aluminumised mylar (the diamond pattern provides diffuse reflection to avoid hotspots).
Inside the cupboard I have 750W of full-spectrum LED lighting, a 500W oil-filled radiator, and a small fan to keep air moving around. There's a vent which pulls air from the outside and a extractor fan which also vents outside. Being able to pull cool air from the outside (even in summer) is extremely useful as the lights can put out quite a lot of heat.
My main growsystem is an Amazon low-pressure aeroponics system, and I've also got some airpots to do some soil-based growing in. Aero on the right, pots on the left. If you're not familiar with aeroponics, it's a system where the plants roots hang in open space and nutrient-rich water is sprayed or misted over them. High-pressure aero uses mist and low pressure uses sprayers. High pressure aero is currently one of the best known ways to maximise plant growth but low-pressure is pretty good too and you don't need anywhere near as much gear like pressure vessels and solenoid and so on. I just have an aquarium pump which drives the sprayers. In my experience aero is considerably more efficient than soil, non-soil media or other hydroponics - but on the other hand it's very twitchy. If your nutrient balance is off or your pH is wrong or worse, you pump fails - things can go wrong very quickly.
The airpots are totally new to me. People say they're good but I have no idea. I have a mixture of compost, perlite and coco coir to go into them so we'll see how that works out. I'm going to use organic nutrients only on them, I have some seaweed derived stuff which should be good throughout the entire grow process.
So that's the hardware, now on to the fun bit - the automation...
On top of the cabinet is a board hosting a Raspberry Pi model A - these days I'd use a Zero W but they didn't exist when I built this. In it's mostly-bare state the board looks like this. Quick explanation - the red board is mains-rated relays which let me switch the connections above it on and off using the Pi. This is where the lights, fan and heater are wired to. The small junction block left of the relays is connected to mains.
The block up and left of the Pi is 5V, which drives the Pi, the relay control electronics and provides power to the junction block on the right. There are various sensors wired in to that block and connected back to the Pi.
Wired up on my bench for testing it looks like this, and in situ it looks like this (this was on a previous iteration of the cupboard but it's basically the same now). The orange cables on the left are lights, fan and heater. The black cables top are the sensors.
Temperature is monitored using five DS18B20 sensors, which are cheap and reasonably accurate serial devices so you can run a whole bunch of them off a single pin on the pi. I monitor my water temperature, the temperature at the plant stem, at the wall, inside my workshop (but outside the cupboard) and outside temperature. The wall/stem temperature is the important one, that determines whether heating or cooling is engaged. I monitor the exterior and interior temperatures to know how effective my insulation is being. If water temperature gets too high I might add an agent which protects against microbial infections that like warmer water.
I do have a DHT22 humidity sensor but they're hella flaky and it's currently not working. I will replace it at some point but past experience suggests humidity is high whatever I do.
The Pi has a python script which runs every five minutes. It reads all the sensors, decides what (if anything) to do, then logs everything in a sqlite database. If it's 'night' (which is actually day outside, for temperature management reasons) it turns the lights off, if it's 'day' it turns them on. If it's cold it turns the heater on, if it's hot the fan. There's a bit of smartness where it actually aims for a midpoint of temperature because otherwise it's always aiming for highest temperature then immediately cooling again, then heating and so on - a stable temperature is better for the plants. At 'night' I tend to run the fan to drop the temperature: plants often like it cooler during darkness, get some fresh air in and attempt to lower the humidity a bit.
There is a web interface which lets me see what's going on - current temperature and status, plus some lovely lovely charts (who doesn't love a nice chart?). I can also turn the lights out from here in case I need to go in an do some maintenance for anything. 750W of LED light is painfully bright, it's much more comfortable (and safer!) to turn them off while topping up reservoirs or changing water or whatever.
It would be relatively trivial to add sensors for moisture or pH to add an auto-watering or auto-adjusting nutrient systems, but I haven't felt the need to do that yet.
Happy to do my best to answer any questions anyone has.26 votes